What is your most treasured memory of teaching?
The moment I really fell in love with teaching - which happened quite a long time after I became a teacher. I was fascinated by the ability of my students to learn difficult concepts, including the ‘life cycle of the stars’ and ‘formation of matter in the early stage of the universe’, and I started creating science programmes with academic institutions that would stretch them beyond the curriculum. This ‘mind to mind’ connection with the students became the centre of my attention and I fell in love with it. This inspired my enquiry-based or ‘self-teaching’ pedagogy, and the award winning programmes where learners take the lead and the teacher is an equal player in the collective pursuit of deep knowledge. My ‘All is One’ project for year 6s on particle science, for example, unlocks so much creativity. We’re learning about molecules and DNA and quarks, and the timeline of the universe’s creation, but I always get asked the most amazing philosophical questions. One 11 year old student asked me if it was possible to see an interpretation of God in string theory; another challenged our criminal justice system when they grasped how environmental factors affect genes; another considered how much more respect they would give to an apple, and a chair, and all beings, because we are all made of the same cosmic fabric.
This ‘mind to mind’ connection with the students became the centre of my attention and I fell in love with it.
The one thing education needs more of to meet tomorrow’s world is...
Collaboration across different fields, and investment in educators to enable them to put progressive research into practice. I’ve learned that it’s extremely rewarding, but very challenging, to bridge and communicate across academic research, teaching practice and the scientific community. It’s allowed me to influence at policy level during the UK’s review of curriculum, which has been the most rewarding achievement of my career, but it has taken a lot of support along the way from many wonderful colleagues. I’ve been lucky enough to have investment and time to observe and learn from my students as a researcher, not just as a teacher. Providing similar opportunities for practitioners, by offering time and resources, will generate more creative approaches to growing young minds and will ultimately narrow the gap between research and practice as they come to understand the cognitive processes happening inside their students’ minds. So the message is, invest in and educate the educators first!